Dita De Boni: Negative review, negative result

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Giving an employee a bad rating isn't likely to make them work any better

Image / Anna Crichton
Image / Anna Crichton

Author Amy Chua, the original "Tiger Mom", horrified hordes of readers with her hardcore views on child-raising; now she has written a book, with Jed Rubenfeld, called The Triple Package, which promises to again make her everyone's favourite pariah.

Where Chua's first book looked at how to raise high-achieving children by banning play dates and demanding straight As, Triple takes a wider view by looking at ethnic groups that tend to achieve in America, and figuring out what they do right.

The authors believe that the high levels of success attained by first and second generation Asian-Americans and Cuban-Americans - among others - is down to three things: being instilled as kids with a superiority complex (they are the "chosen people"), combined with an inferiority complex (get an education or you'll be destitute), topped off with lots of impulse control (hard work and striving).

Some critics decry the work as racist and anti-scientific, as well as questioning the constant striving to meet parental and cultural expectation.

These practices may churn out boatloads of doctors, dentists and lawyers, the critics concur. But, really, how happy are these high achievers?

There's no definitive proof that negative motivation of children leads to a "better" adult - although most seem to think we've gone too far in Western nations in emphasising what brilliant, angelic little geniuses all our kids are, and think that perhaps we should be a little more Tiger Mom to be sure they don't turn out to be indolent drop-kicks.

We do know that negative motivation seldom works for adults, however, which is why wise employers are questioning that long-observed, paper-heavy practice known as the "performance review", which supposedly engineers a regular "constructive discussion" between employee and employer, to canvass areas of good performance and the dreaded "areas to work on".

One problem is that as soon as any critical feedback is received, most people - even those who believe themselves open to it - become discouraged and demotivated, suggests new research by psychologists at Kansas State, Eastern Kentucky and Texas A&M Universities.

Forbes magazine says more and more companies are dispensing with the performance review after seeing how demoralising and ineffective it really is. But other companies persist with it, among them some of the world's largest. Companies such as GE and Microsoft even engage in a horrible practice called "stack ranking", where employees are reviewed then plotted along a bell curve, meaning a certain number of people are deemed top performers, good performers, average and useless - all tied to bonuses and pay rates.

Slate journalist Will Oremus goes as far as to suggest that stack ranking is behind Microsoft's market decline, its employees so busy brown-nosing their bosses and sabotaging their colleagues in an attempt to move up the bell curve that they have little time to innovate.

It doesn't appear that too many Kiwi workers are subjected to stack ranking, but they certainly have to endure endless performance reviews, and it would be very interesting to know if a single one has the desired effect - or is even acted upon. The experts suggest saving the Tiger Boss routine for employees who really do have performance issues, leaving everyone else to simply get on with their main task - making the company some money.

- NZ Herald

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